June 23, 2024
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RYNJ Adopting Unique Wong Educational System

Author to Visit School in February

RYNJ has been revolutionary in implementing a unique and innovative professional development program in 2013-14 to develop a “culture of consistency” throughout the yeshiva. Teachers and administrators are collaborating together to discuss such topics as maintaining positive expectations for students, invitational education, and classroom management, procedures, and routines. The RYNJ administration, rebbeim, morot, and teachers are working together to create an environment for the students that is effective and predictable so every child can maximize his or her potential.

On the last day of school in June, each teacher received a copy of The First Days of School by well-known author and educator Harry Wong. The book describes and discusses the qualities of an effective teacher, such as having positive expectations for student success, being a good classroom manager, and designing lessons to help students achieve. They read the book over the summer to prepare for staff orientation in August. It served as the kick-off for the new program and the first of many Book Discussion Groups. Head of School, Rabbi Daniel Price, recruited 17 teachers to lead small groups as “facilitators.” The facilitators work closely with guidance from Mrs. Naomi Landsman and Morah Tzippy Staum, co-heads of this initiative and teachers in the yeshiva.

At orientation, the teachers were divided into groups of Judaic and General Studies staff and began goal-oriented discussions. Each facilitator worked with original RYNJ-created guidelines correlating with the book’s topics and themes. Having discussion groups led by teachers at once allowed for vibrant discussion often not found at more run-of-the-mill professional development seminars. The way in which the yeshiva’s administration was involved was unique. Each administrator was assigned to a group in the same way that each teacher was. One teacher said “I loved seeing how enthusiastic the principals were to be part of the discussion and how engaged they were in the give-and-take.”

Because of the teacher-driven nature of the program, the facilitators did not tell people how they should be doing things differently; they were simply there to help guide discussions in a meaningful way. Any resulting suggestions came from the teachers themselves and were met with interest and positive feedback. Third grade teacher, Mrs. Yonina Rosenberg, said, “I loved bouncing ideas off my colleagues and hearing their suggestions of ways that I can be even more effective.”

The learning did not end at orientation. On Election Day, the entire morning session of the yeshiva’s professional development day was set aside for additional Book Discussion Group meetings. In addition, the groups continually meet throughout the year to discuss new ideas and concepts. This allows for reflection as a team on which action items from prior meetings have been successfully implemented and which can be further improved.

Another aspect of these meetings is the ability for individual teachers to get feedback and advice on specific issues in their classrooms. In one recent meeting, the group discussed how to best help their students with “transitions” (switching from Limudei Kodesh to General Studies, Math to Science, recess back to class-time, etc.). Instead of each teacher having his/her own rules and procedures, the teachers collaborated to streamline the discussion across grade levels and across disciplines, and are working toward policies that can be applied school-wide.

RYNJ will welcome Harry Wong in February to come and inspire the staff. After studying his book, teachers feel his visit will be a motivating factor to keep momentum going on all the procedures and strategies that have already been implemented.

Rabbi Price, a key supporter of Mrs. Landsman and Morah Staum in their efforts, observed that “it is truly amazing to see the collaboration and brainstorming that is taking place among everyone involved. I am so proud to see how hard everyone is working and how dedicated each and every individual has been, and continues to be, to the betterment of our yeshiva. Mrs. Landsman and Morah Staum have been exceptional in coordinating this project. I can see on a daily basis how great it is to have this working and learning environment that we have created for our teachers and students. When teachers buy into their professional development, the sky is the limit!”

By Stephanie Summers

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